The Sweet – Seventies Superstars

Almost stuck with the name of Sweetshop, the “shortened” Sweet burst onto the music scene at the end of the sixties although their heyday was really the eclectic seventies.  Never ones to miss an opportunity they hung their hopes on the powerful hooks of glam rock although that was not how they kicked it all off.

Two of their earliest songs flowed with the essence of the Caribbean islands, telling the fun stories of “Coco” and “Poppa Joe.”   I remember listening to these on Radio Luxembourg (European radio station known for fading in and out) in the coastal wilds of Lincolnshire.  Even at this stage in their career their songs had elements that could be sung loudly by raucous crowds of teenagers.   Not that I was particularly given to raucousness, of course.

 

COCO (1971)

VERSE 1

Co-Co would dream of dancing
At midnight beneath the stars
‘Cos when it comes to dancing
Co-Co’s a star! (Emphatic line)
He danced in a ring of fire
That circled the island shore
And as the flames got higher
They’d all call for more and M O R E (Anticipation line – see explanation below)

CHORUS:

Ho-chi-ka-ka-ho Co-Co
Ho-chi-ka-ka-ho Co-Co
Ho-chika-ka-ho go go Co-Co

Ho-chi-ka-ka-ho Co-Co
Ho-chi-ka-ka-ho Co-Co
Ho-chi-ka-ka-ho go go Co-Co

VERSE 2:

Across the silver water
The sound of the island drums
Echoing Co-Co’s laughter
Yeah, Co-Co’s the one (Emphatic line)
He moves with the cool of moonlight
Under a tropic sky
Then into the morning sunlight
he’d still hear them cry and cry (Anticipation line)

CHORUS

Ho-chi-ka-ka-ho Co-Co …

COCO also builds up the expectations of the listener; because certain lines indicate that something is going to happen, that the song is to reach a crescendo.  They do this by prolonging notes and syllables.  For example in the line “They’d all call for more and M O R E”, followed by the explosive sing-along lines of the chorus.

 

POPPA JOE (1972)

In the midday sun
They beat on their drums
When Poppa Joe comes to town
With his coconut-rum
They can all have fun
They can drink it
‘Till the sun goes down

Poppa Joe just smiles politely
With the money he takes he might be
Very rich one day as he hears them say (Anticipation line)

CHORUS

Poppa rumbo rumbo
Hey Poppa Joe coconut
Poppa Joe, hey Poppa Joe
Poppa rumbo rumbo
Hey Poppa Joe coconut

As they were looking around for a star to hang their hats on they then found the teenybopper sounds of the following, all of which are great party songs:

LITTLE WILLY (1972):

A fun song with nonsensical lyrics but equipped with one of their wonderful sing-along choruses, the story of the ultimate teenage partyer:

Alltogether now!

North side , east side
Little Willy Willy wears the crown, he’s the king around town
Dancing, glancing, Willy drives them silly with his star shoe shimmy shuffle down

Way past one, and feeling allright
‘Cause with little Willy round they can last all night
Hey down, stay down, stay down D O W N (Anticipation line)
CHORUS:

Cause little Willy, Willy won’t go home,

But you can’t push Willy round
Willy won’t go,

Try tellin’ everybody but, oh no
Little Willy, Willy won’t go home

 

The anticipation line is “Hey down, stay down …” and the emphasized segments “Won’t go home,” with particular emphasis on the “go home.”

 

WIG WAM BAM (1972)

The Sweet glamming it up Indian style for Wig-Wam Bam

With this song they take a step into legends and historical figures.  It’s a little ditty about love the Indian way and offers the usual sing along chorus and repetition and emphatic elements;

In performance they often wore full Indian regalia and war paint.

VERSE 2

Running Bear never cared enough
About Little White Dove and her tender love
Till she took him to the silver stream
She told him all about what he couldn’t live without
And made him all weak inside when she said

CHORUS

Wig-wam bam, gonna make you my man
Wam bam bam, gonna get you if I can
Wig-wam bam, wanna make you understand
Try a little touch, try a little too much
Just try a little wigiwam bam

 

BLOCKBUSTER (1973)

Blockbuster tells the tale of a guy who is “always getting in your face,” whose amorous exploits have to be stopped.  New elements this time around include different members of the band doing different voices and a background police siren.  The song kicks off with a little innocent screaming.

Ahhh Ahhh

VERSE 1

You better beware, you better take care (this line sounds almost ominous)
You better watch out if you’ve got long black hair
Keep looking behind, you’ll go out of your mind
You better not go, you never know what you’ll find
Ahh Ahh Ahh, Ahh Ahhh

VERSE 2

Don’t look into his eyes, you’ll be surprised
But you don’t know what’s going on behind his disguse
Nobody knows where Buster goes
He’ll steal your woman out from under your nose

Does anyone know the way, did we hear someone say  (First voice change line)
(We just haven’t got a clue what to do)  ( Second voice change line)
Does anyone know the way, there’s got to be a way
To Blockbuster! (Emphatic line, and emphasizing the title)

VERSE 3

The cops are out, they’re running about
Don’t know if they’ll ever be able to blockbuster out
He’s just got to be caught, he’s got to be taught

Cos he’s more evil than anyone here ever thought ..

The line “We just haven’t got a clue ..” is sung in a different voice and the delivery is slowed down.   This technique will be used again in “Hellraiser” and “Ballroom Blitz.”
BALLROOM BLITZ (1973)

One of their best known songs, it begins with the members of the group calling out to each other, asking if they’re ready.  The song employs all of the previously discussed techniques.   After screaming “let’s go” the song starts explosively but then slows down appreciably for the first verse.  The alternative voice effects are employed as the “man at the back” is introduced and an example of an emphasized line is “She thinks she’s the passionate one.”   “And they all started grooving  the line that builds anticipation, along with the following “yeah, yeah, yeah.”

GROUP INTRO

Are you ready Steve? Uh-huh
Andy? Yeah
Mick? Okay
Alright fellas, let’s go!

VERSE 1

Oh it’s been getting so hard
Living with the things you do to me
My dreams are getting so strange
I’d like to tell you everything I see

Oh, I see a man at the back as a matter of fact (Voice change line)
His eyes are as red as the sun
And the girl in the corner let no one ignore her
Cause she thinks she’s the passionate one (Emphatic line)

Oh yeah! It was like lightning
Everybody was fighting
And the music was soothing
And they all started grooving

Yeah, yeah, yeah-yeah-yeah (Anticipation line)
CHORUS

And the man in the back said everyone attack
And it turned into a ballroom blitz
And the girl in the corner said boy I want to warn you
It’ll turn into a ballroom blitz
Ballroom blitz, ballroom blitz, ballroom blitz, ballroom blitz

 

After Ballroom Blitz the Sweet tended mainly to emphasise the more heavy metal, rockier elements of their music, in songs like: Fox on the run, Action, The lies in your eyes and Stairway to the stars

But there were exceptions such as the teenybopper anthem “teenage rampage” and the beautiful “The Six Teens,” which told the tale of a group of teenagers with the emphasis here on how life had treated them.

TEENAGE RAMPAGE (1974)

Crowd pleaser, anthem screamer and a great sing-along number:

VERSE 1

All over the land the kids are finally startin’ to get the upper hand.
They’re out in the streets they turn on the heat
And soon they will be completely in command.
Imagine the sensation (Voice changes here)
Of teenage occupation

At thirteen they’ll be learning

But at fourteen they’ll be burnin’
But there’s something in the air
Of which we all will be aware.

But they don’t care
No, No, No, No  (The anticipation line)
CHORUS

So come and join the revolution, Get yourself a constitution
Come and join the revolution now

And recognize your age it’s the teenage rampage

Turn another page on the teenage rampage now.
Now now now now now now now now . . . (Leads into an instrumental break)
THE SIX TEENS (1974)

VERSE 1

Where were you in sixty-eight?
In sixty-eight Julie was Johnnie’s date
Two kids growin’ together
Livin’ each day as if time was slippin’ away
Oh, they were just sixteen
And their love a teenage dream
They passed the time, they crossed the line
The line that ran between
Julie and Johnnie now you’ve made it (The anticipation line and voice change line)

CHORUS

But life goes on, you know it ain’t easy (This chorus sung at a different pace)
You’ve just gotta be strong
If you’re one of the sixteens (Emphatic line)
VERSE 2

Suzie and Davey got to make the big time
Maybe they can put it all together
In a show that lasts forever
Oh they would walk the strip at nights
And dream they saw their name in lights
On Desolation boulevard (The name of one of their great albums)
They’ll light the faded light

FOX ON THE RUN (1975)

This track kicks off with a siren-like sound that builds and fades.  Its chorus is particularly catchy and fun to sing:

I don’t wanna know your name (Echo used on this line)
‘Cause you don’t look the same
The way you did before
Okay, you think you got a pretty face
But the rest of you is out of place
You looked alright before (Anticipation line. The “BEFORE” is extended.)

CHORUS

Fox on the run
You scream and everybody comes a running
Take a run and hide yourself away
Foxy on the run
F-foxy, Fox on the run
Go and hide away

 

ACTION (1975)

VERSE 1

So you think you’ll take another piece of me
To satisfy your intellectual need
Do you want, do you want
Action, action, action, action (Emphasized line with lots of echo)

Gonna bring you down
‘Cause you’ve been pushing me
You’ve got to recognize my superiority

 

Liar, liar, liar, liar (Anticipation line)
You know you believed it
Higher, higher, higher, higher (Rhyming anticipation line)
‘Cause I’m the main man

 

CHORUS:

And that’s why, everybody wants a piece of the action
Everybody needs a main attraction …
I’ve got what everybody needs, satisfaction guaranteed
Everybody wants a piece of the action!

VERSE 2

Oh, I was suicidal ’cause you were my idol
Baby, baby, baby, bring me to your knees
Oh, there was a time I would have walked the line
But you bled me dry with your insatiable greed

Liar, liar, liar, liar (Anticipation line)
You know you believed it
You can listen to all of the aforementioned sons on YouTube.  I hope you will enjoy Sweet as much as I do.  But it certainly seems unusual singing along with “Teenage Rampage,” a hair’s breadth from 60!!!!!

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Four for all

ABBA

ROXY MUSIC

MADONNA

QUEEN

 

ABBA GOLD – A compilation

Who doesn’t love ABBA, the Swedish purveyors of “clean cut” wholesome music?   Since their breakthrough with “Waterloo” on the Eurovision stage in 1974 in Brighton, England, the group dominated western music for near on two decades, pumping out th sugary pop of “Mama Mia”, “Honey Honey” and “Dancing Queen” and giving us the more adult-focused and lyrically intense “the winner takes it all” and “the name of the game.”

“Knowing me, Knowing you” is another fun relationship composition with a highly singable almost hypnotic chorus and can be paired style wise with the immensely catchy “take a chance on me.”

Then, there is the disco-inflected “Voulez-vous?” with its disco beat, dueling guitars and infectious beat and towards the end of the collection we finish up with the appropriately titled “thank you for the music.” This also featured in ABBA the movie, another of their many successes.

 

ROXY MUSIC “More than this”

The title of one of their hit singles and of this compilation, Roxy were helmed by the rich, mellifluous voice of Bryan Ferry. Their music was sexy, sultry, smooth and held together by driving, pounding beats and intricate melodies, often accompanied by tinkling pianos.

Mr. Ferry updated the classics producing his own fascinating versions of standards such as “Smoke gets in your eyes” (The Platters) and “These foolish things” (remind me of you), songs from an earlier decade which Roxy twisted into their style.   He also reinvented Dylan’s “A hard rain’s gonna fall” whose imagery suited the mysterious band.

Next come the “today down the disco” compositions of “Street life”, “love is the drug”, “more than this”, “the same old scene”, “dance away”, “let’s stick together” and “don’t stop the dance”

And the collection ends with the smooth “jealous guy” and one of my all time favourites, “Avalon,” with its silky smooth melodies, extra length and beautiful weave of notes, voices and musical instruments.

 

MADONNA – A compilation bringing together the best of the eighties with her newer sounds

The funky “into the groove” is one of the first tracks to catch my ears, oozing silkily from the speakers.

Other tracks call to mind the amazing videos that were put together to sell them.   Examples include the exuberant “holiday” and the thought-provoking, almost religious “like a prayer.”

The newer sounds are ably represented by “Hung up” and the rave-like “ray of light.”   The tempo and temperature go up.

 

QUEEN – CLASSIC HITS

As the name suggests the collection kicks off with two of their sports-friendly mega hits: “We will rock you” and “We are the champions.”   It’s really impossible not to sing.

But Queen are nothing if not versatile and the disc continues with the theatrical “killer queen’” (with her Moet et Chandon) and her Marie Antoinette behaviours. And since these are the early classics from Queen’s long and illustrious career we also get to hear again the anthemic “somebody to love”, the mysterious “Now I’m here” and the music hall sounds of “good old fashioned lover boy” ably assisted by the swirling beat of “crazy little thing called love,” which was top of the charts when I was at college in Huddersfield, UK (76-80).   The collection closes with the whimsical but highly rocking “Seven seas of Rhye.”  Even from their earliest albums – QUEEN, QUEEN 2, SHEER HEART ATTACK and NEWS OF THE WORLD  Queen were a force to be reckoned with.  I miss you, Freddie.

Tight Fit and Live Aid – Two Pop Polar Opposites

It’s 12 Noon in London, 7 AM in Philadelphia, and Around the World it’s Time for Live Aid!

This post addresses both the ephemeral fad and the ultimate monolith, one of the most important achievements in modern music history both in terms of performance on the day but also with regard to the “good” this one historical event brought about.

There have always been fads in music and generally these also turn out to be 1-hit wonders.  Their music may be not quite as disposable as the bubblegum music of the 60s (e.g. Ohio Express and yummy yummy yummy) but almost as easily dismissed.  Tight Fit were one such example.  They had one big hit and that was a cover of The Tokens’ The Lion sleeps tonight.  But worse yet they did not even sing their own music!   On their appearance on Britain’s Top of the Pops it’s fair to say they did not even “play” themselves.  Instead a good looking group of male and female models were hastily put together and they lip-synched to the tune.

TIGHT FIT - Built for the camera rather than the stage.  Can we all say "Wimoweh"?

TIGHT FIT – Built for the camera rather than the stage. Can we all say “Wimoweh”?

Another trend of the 80s was for groups (but only in name) to put together mixes of other artists’ successful songs, repackaging them and, essentially gaining fame from others’ past efforts.  Immediately springing to mind are Stars on 45  and Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers.  While their resulting achievements may be fun and many will remember the manic bunny’s exhortation, “c’mon everybody, c’mon everybody”, an invitation repeated ad nauseam and with particular sonic twists, they hardly represent the pinnacle of the musical arts!

JIVE BUNNY AND THE MASTERMIXERS

Now he's one cute bunny

Now he’s one cute bunny

It’s not the first time in musical history that a cartoon-like character has scored a top hit.  I’m sure you will remember Sugar Sugar by cartoon group The Archies. Like them Jive Bunny can best be described as a novelty pop act.  Centered around a DJ from Rotherham, England, the cartoon bunny in question appeared in all the videos (of which there were many).  The Buggles may have thought we were living in the age of plastic but in reality the music video was now king and dictated many of our buying choices.

Their method was to take an immediately identifiable tune and use this as the “glue” to string together a bewildering mix of other well-loved favorites.  This is the treatment they gave Glen Miller’s In The Mood in their prepackaged production of Swing the mood.  The group had three major hits and even produced an album of the mixes.

I'm in the mood.  Are you?

I’m in the mood. Are you?

The three important hits were Swing the mood (which spent 5 weeks at number 1), That’s what I like and Let’s Party.  In all of these music sampling, sound effects and synthesizers were used to create a medley.  This was possibly the start of the late 90s mash-up trends where bits and pieces from different songs were forged together into a new one.  Amazingly, They had 11 entries in the chart between 1989 and 1991.

The heavily updated songs in Swing the Mood were:

  • Let’s twist again (Chubby Checker)
  • Rock around the clock (Bill Haley and his Comets)
  • Tutti Frutti (Little Richard)
  • Wake up little Suzie (The Everly Brothers)
  • C’mon Everybody (Eddie Cochran)
  • Hound dog (Elvis Presley)
  • Shake rattle & roll (Bill Haley again)
  • All shook up (Elvis Presley)
  • Jailhouse Rock (Elvis Presley)
  • At the hop (Danny and the Juniors)

All of the above were chained together by excerpts of Glen Miller’s famous tune.

Stars on 45, a Dutch initiative, was similar in concept and hit the world’s charts in 1981.  The linked extracts were, however more up to date.

Stars on 45, the start of the mash-up trend?

Stars on 45, the start of the mash-up trend?

 

LIVE AID 1985 – THE HYPER CONCERT

LIVE AID 1985 Incredible!

LIVE AID 1985 Incredible!

If Bob Geldof (erstwhile lead singer of The Boomtown Rats) and Midge Ure (whose amazing vocals made Vienna such a smash for Ultravox) remember anything about their musical past it must surely be The Live Aid Concerts of 1985 – two incredible concerts on the same day, one in London, the other in Philadelphia.  These concerts reunited just about every “star” you might think of (but also many that you would not) into a night of star-studded entertainment for the world.  These two incredible concerts will be remembered for many years still to come and raised thousands upon thousands of dollars for Ethiopian charities.

On July 13 1985 the world for two amazing running orders forgot its petty squabbles and came together in music.  I watched all of the first and most of the second at a friend’s house in Hastings, England.

Moved to tears by harrowing images of starving children Bob and Midge brought together a large group of like-minded and charitable artists in Britain while also facilitating the creation of a similar group in the USA, USA for Africa, with the aim of creating two unforgettable concerts. Phil Collins would fly between and perform at both, quite a feat itself.  The actual idea to hold a mega charity concert was initially, however, the brainchild of Boy George of Culture Club who sang on Band Aid’s charity single.

wem

Prior to the concerts the world was readied for this amazing event by the release of two charity singles: Band Aid’s Do they know it’s Christmas? and USA for Africa’s We are the world. Concerts inspired by the event were also held in Germany and Australia!  They all constituted one of the largest global satellite link ups ever attempted,  bringing together in a common cause 1.9b people in a staggering 150 different countries.

THE CONCERT RUNNING ORDER

Wembley, London

  • The band of the Coldstream Guards: God save the Queen
  • STATUS QUO: Rocking all over the world (Appropriately), Caroline, Don’t waste my time
  • THE STYLE COUNCIL (Paul Weller’s band):
  • ADAM ANT: Vive Le Rock
  • OZ FOR AFRICA: Sydney’s contribution to the day’s events
  • ULTRAVOX: Reap the wild wind, Dancing with tears in my eyes, one small day, Vienna (what a great set)
  • SPANDAU BALLET: Only when you leave, virgin, True (class!)
  • The Philadelphia Concert is now about to start with Joan Baez (see below)
  • ELVIS COSTELLO: All you need is love
  • Austrian music from Vienna
  • NIK KERSHAW: Wide boy, Wouldn’t it be good
  • DUTCH CONTRIBUTION with BB KING
  • SADE: Why can’t we live together, Your love is King
  • YUGOSLAVIAN Contribution.
  • STING and PHIL COLLINS: Roxanne, Driven to tears, Against all odds, message in a bottle, In the air tonight, Long long way to go, Every breath you take (WOW! just WOW!)
  • HOWARD JONES: Hide and seek
  • RUSSIAN CONTRIBUTION (Live from Moscow)
  • BRYAN FERRY: Boys and girls, slave to love, Jealous guy
  • GERMAN CONTRIBUTION (live from cologne)
  • PAUL YOUNG: Do they know it’s Christmas, come back and stay, Every time you go away
  • PAUL YOUNG & ALISON MOYET: That’s the way love is (Tender moment!)
  • U2: Sunday bloody Sunday, bad
  • DIRE STRAITS: Money for nothing, Sultans of Swing
  • QUEEN (A show in itself): Bohemian Rhapsody, Radio Ga ga, Hammer to fall, Crazy little thing called love, We will rock you, We are the champions
  • DAVID BOWIE & MICK JAGGER: Dancing in the street (Another moment to treasure)
  • DAVID BOWIE: Rebel rebel, Modern love, heroes
  • THE WHO: My generation, Pinball wizard, Won’t get fooled again
  • NORWAY contribution.
  • ELTON JOHN & KIKI DEE: I’m still standing, bennie and the jets, Rocket man, Don’t go breaking my heart
  • ELTON jOHN & WHAM: Don’t let the sun go down on me
  • FREDDIE MERCURY & BRIAN MAY: IS this the world we created? (very poignant)
  • PAUL McCartney: Let it be
  • LONDON finale (10 pm) – Do they know it’s Christmas?

====================================================================

Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic in JFK STADIUM PHILADELPHIA 100,000 people were entertained by:

JFK Stadium Philadelphia

JFK Stadium Philadelphia

  • JOAN BAEZ (“This is your Woodstock”) Amazing grace, We are the world
  • THE HOOTERS: And we danced, All you zombies
  • THE FOUR TOPS: Shake me, wake me when it’s over, It’s the same old song, Reach out i’ll be there, I can’t help myself (sugar pie honey bunch)
  • BILLY OCEAN: Caribbean Queen, Loverboy
  • BLACK SABBATH: Iron man, Paranoid
  • RUN DMC: King of rock
  • RICK SPRINGFIELD: Love somebody, Human touch
  • REO SPEEDWAGON: Can’t fight this feeling, Roll with the changes
  • CROSBY STILLS AND NASH: Teach your chidren, Suite judy blue eyes
  • JUDAS PRIEST: Living after midnight, You’ve got another thing coming
  • BRYAN ADAMS: KIds wanna rock, Summer of 69, Tears are not enough, Cuts like a knife
  • THE BEACH BOYS: California girls, Help me Rhonda, Wouldn’t it be nice, Good vibrations, Surfin’ USA
  • GEORGE THOROUGOOD: Who do you love?, The sky is cying
  • SIMPLE MINDS: Ghost dancing, Don’t you forget about me, Promised you a miracle
  • THE PRETENDERS: Message of love, Stop your sobbing, Back on the chain gang, Middle of the road
  • SANTANA: Brotherhood, Primera invasion
  • ASHFORD & SIMPSON: Solid
  • ASHFORD & SIMPSON & TEDDY PENDERGRASS: Reach out and touch
  • KOOL & THE GANG: Stand up and sing, Cherish
  • MADONNA: Holiday, Into the groove, Love makes the world go round
  • TOM PETTY AND thE HEARTBREAKERS: American girl, The waiting, Rebel, Refugee
  • KENNY LOGGINS: Footloose
  • THE CARS: You might think, Drive, Just what I needed, Heartbeat city
  • NEIL YOUNG: The needle and the damage done, Helpless
  • POWER STATION: Get it on
  • THE THOMPSON TWINS: Hold me now
  • THE THOMPSON TWINS + MADONNA: Revolution
  • ERIC CLAPTON: White room, Layla
  • PHIL COLLINS (after flying on Concorde): Against all odds, In the air tonight
  • PLANT, PAGE & JONES: Rock and roll, A whole lotta love, Stairway to heaven
  • CROSBY STILLS NAS & YOUNG: Only love can break your heart, Daylight again
  • DURAN DURAN: A view to a kill, Union of the snake, Save a prayer, The reflex
  • PATTI LABELLE: Imagine (Lennon), Forever young (Dylan), Stir it up(Marley), Over the rainbow (Collins), Why can’t I get it over. Patti singing the greats.
  • HALL & OATES: Out of touch, Maneater, Get ready (with Eddie Kendricks), Ain’t too proud to beg (with David Ruffin), The way you do the things you do (with both guests), My girl
  • MICK JAGGER (introduced by Bette Midler): Just another night, Miss you
  • MICK JAGGER + TINA TURNER: State of shock, It’s only rock and roll,
  • BOB DYLAN, RON WOOD & KEITH RICHARDS: When the ship comes in, Blowin’ in the wind
  • US FINALE: We are the world (reprise)

Next Up: Bruce Reborn

A Profile of Jimmy Somerville

James William Somerville

James William Somerville

  • NAME: James  William Somerville
  • YEAR OF BIRTH: 1961
  • CITY: Glasgow
  • NATIONALITY: Scottish
  • GENDER: M
  • HEIGHT: Sadly, short in stature, 5′ 2″
  • SEXUAL PREFERENCE: Men; Professed openly “gay” at a time when it was difficult to be so.
  • ENDEARING FEATURES: Elfin appearance, crazy dancer, amazing voice
  • TIME MOST ACTIVE: 1980s
  • EXPERIENCE: Bronski Beat, The Communards, Solo performer

I formed the Communards in 1985 with my friend, the classically trained piano player, Richard Coles. Our up tempo covers (Don’t leave me this way and Never can say goodbye), both disco classics had the dancefloors of Europe shaking and remain some of my most popular tracks.  I’m proud to say that Don’t leave me this way was the best single of the year in 1986.   It makes me laugh now but I was also the backing singer on the Fine Young Cannibals’ cover of Elvis’ Suspicious Minds.  Not many people know that.

In spite of my best efforts the Communards split in 1988 and I took my voice and dance moves solo in 1989.

Like Freddie Mercury I have been affected by the terrible scourge of AIDS.  On my album RED there was a track that I called for a friend with which I celebrated life and released in memory of Mark Ashton.  I was so pleased that the album went platinum as it contained some of my most poignant LGBT songs and, not surprisingly the track has been described as one of my more passionate moments and was featured in the soundtrack of Pride.  (See below)

FAVORITE SONGS: My own, of course 🙂

Small town boy by my synthpop group, Bronski Beat.

Small town boy: Produced by Bronski Beat tells the story of a young man who “comes out” to his family but they are unable to accept it.  The disharmony and unhappiness in the house grows to such an extent that he has to leave and chooses to start a new life in London.  His mum will miss him – he’ll always be her baby – but not so much his dad to whom he is unable to justify his actions. In the video we see frustrating and sad glimpses of his earlier life, for example when he was bullied at the local swimming pool.  The most poignant, heart-wrenching scenes are, however saved for the end.  We see him alone on a rainswept platform waiting for the London train and as he’s traveling south we see his reflection in the train windows.  At this time he has no friends or family.  The song reflected some of Jimmy’s own experience.  One benefit of coming to London was to join “gay groups” and gay teenager associations.

For a friend:

I never cried, the way I cried over you

As I put down the telephone and the world it carried on

Somewhere else, someone else is crying too

Another man has lost a friend, I’ll bet he feels the way I do.

Although I’m left without, I know your love within

As I watch the sun go down, watching the world fade away

All the memories of you come rushing back to me

As I watch the sun go down, watching the world fade away

All I want to do is kiss you once goodbye.

I am also proud of my dance tracks:

Don’t leave me this way (Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes)

Never can say goodbye

You make me feel (mighty real) [originally by Sylvester]

I feel love (originally Donna Summer)

To love somebody (originally The Bee Gees)

Hurt so good (Susan Cadogan)

Heartbeat

Please check my music out on YouTube.

 

Next Up: A Tight Squeeze and Live Aid

 

The New Wave Rolls On

The New Romantics

Another facet of the New Wave in popular music was the growth of the so-called New Romantic movement.  Like Glam, the styles were somewhat androgynous and the musicians of the time once more decided to get out the dress up box and aspire to be figures from heroic fiction such as highwaymen, pirates and river boat crews.  Some just styled their hair, others wore grandiose heroic outfits and still others went “the whole hog” in their attempts to prove how different they were.  The fashion was flamboyant and at times verged on the eccentric.

A further factor was the appearance of MTV and the growth in music video techniques.  If they couldn’t or didn’t want to play the hero in real life they could do so on the small screen.  Together the New Romantics effected a second invasion of the USA charts.

So let’s take a look at two prominent New Romantic artists: Boy George and Culture Club And Adam and his ants.

ADAM AND THE ANTS

Not one of the core New Romantics because he was not associated with the groups who met at London’s Blitz club, but had greater connections with the punks at Malcolm McLaren’s Sex boutique, in 1980 he created the second revision of the band.

Stand and deliver.  Adam Ant as a highwayman.

Stand and deliver. Adam Ant as a highwayman.

The first melted away to form the short-lived pop group, Bow Wow Wow.  Adam and the group released their major release, KINGS OF THE WILD FRONTIER, shortly afterwards.  Their next album PRINCE CHARMING was even more successful, yielding the singles Prince Charming and Stand and deliver, the latter top of the charts for five weeks in 1981.   In 1982 they earned a Grammy award for best new artist.  Making the most of the MTV phenomenon, dramatic and charismatic videos were created for their singles Ant Rap, Stand and deliver and Prince Charming.

CULTURE CLUB

Now, surprise here, Boy George was a Blitz Kid New Romantic and formed his group in 1981 and fully adopted the androgynous dress style of the early members.  Many people at the time thought they were listening to a girl singer.

Their music fused the best elements of the New Wave with various other genres such as reggae, calypso and country.  They were also a part of the second British Invasion and placed ten singles on the American charts.  They won the Brit Award for best UK group in 1984 and sold 50 million records around the world.  Their two best-selling albums were KISSING TO BE CLEVER (1982) and the huge seller COLOUR BY NUMBERS the following year.

Their best singles were:

  • Church of the poison mind
  • I’ll tumble for ya
  • Victims
  • Do you really want to hurt me?
  • Time (clock of the heart)
  • Karma Chameleon
  • Miss me blind
  • It’s a miracle
  • I just wanna be loved

Their singles were some of the classics of the New Wave and will be remembered as such.

Next Up: A word from Jimmy Somerville

 

One Step Further and I Would’ve Been There!

The Madness, Hilarity and Downright Fun of the Eurovision Song Contest

What you say? Read on for an explanation.

Let's watch next year from Vienna

Let’s watch next year from Vienna

The Eurovision Song Contest is the longest running television program in the world.  With its origins in those times when Europe was slowly leaving behind the cataclysm of World War II (the 1950s), it is still running today and has an enomous fanbase that stretches around the world.  May is a very exciting month for its followers who swarm Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites with their comments.

I used to love to watch it (and still do!) when I was a teenager in Spondon and a young adult in Hastings but, to be honest, the best part was not the blah-blah so-so singing (although there has been some great music over the years) but the voting at the end of the competition.

In the past an entire swathe of countries across Europe struggled desperately to avoid a “nul points” situation (NO POINTS), which in the 70s was generally snagged by Norway anyway.

Furthermore, if as a viewer, you did not know much about international alliances, after the voting had completed you received a free political education:

Russia would award its top marks (12 pts)  to Byelorussia or Ukraine or maybe Georgia or Azerbaijan and they in turn would award Russia their due.

The Scandinavians would, of course, praise each other highly.

The countries of the former Yugoslavia would reward each other (Serbia, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Slovenia, etc.).

The so-called voting blocks but really is it so unusual that countries with a similar culture will like the same type of music?

The so-called voting blocks but really is it so unusual that countries with a similar culture will like the same type of music?

So, watching the voting could be described as “a laugh or a knowing nod a minute!”  It was not for the faint of heart. After the vision of a diminutive francaise warbling a few notes on a cavernous stage that looked as if it was about to swallow her up (reprise of the act) Belgium would promptly award 12 points.  Then the Netherlands with their jury calling in from the picture-perfect Den Haag (The Hague) would award the same song only one point.  And so it would go on.  The European voting is chaotic, crazy, but, above all, fun.  We used to have a family bet on who would win, which also added to the enjoyment of watching the show.

Usually out of 40 or so songs 10 would be good, 10 reasonable, 10 just about bearable and the rest, well, forget it.  Still, I personally always admired the fact that no matter how dire the song or the performance, the young (mainly) artists were singing for their countries and contributing to peace in Europe!

We love these participants

We love these participants

FAVORITE EUROVISION SONGS (Have a listen on YouTube)

A stunning 62 songs have won to date (do the maths!) and ABBA’s Waterloo was recently voted the best of the past fifty years.

  • 1968 Sandie Shaw     Puppet on a string     UK
  • 1969 Lulu     Boom bang a bang     UK (I used to sing this in my last year at Primary School)
  • 1970 Dana     All kinds of everything     Ireland (Interestingly she became an MEP)
  • 1971 Severine     Un banc, un arbre, une rue     Monaco
  • 1974 ABBA     Waterloo     Sweden
  • 1976 Brotherhood of man     Save your kisses for me     UK
  • This is particularly meaningful because I was in France at the time on the French Exchange (Aged 17 1/2) and the next day (after the UK victory) I was an object of some interest in the classroom; I was also asked by the English teacher to write the lyrics of the song on the blackboard as it was playing.  This is not an easy thing to do, caused bursts of laughter and I was soon several verses behind but trying valiantly to catch up.
  • 1981 Bucks Fizz     Making your mind up     UK
  • 1982 Nicole     A little peace     Germany (This is a beautiful song)
  • 1988 Celine Dion     Ne partez pas sans moi (don’t leave without me)     Switzerland
  • 1997 Katrina and the Waves     Love shine a light     UK (another beautiful tune from the group who shone with Walking on sunshine).
  • 2011 Ell & Nikki     Running scared     Azerbaijan
  • 2012 Loreen     Euphoria     Sweden
  • 2013 Emmelie deforest     Only teardrops     Denmark

I also have a double CD collection of some of these songs, a guilty secret but listening to it brings back so many special memories.

A GEOGRAPHY LESSON

Eurovision at times stretches the definition of what constitutes Europe, generally bringing the following countries into its fold:

Northern Europe

  • United Kingdom. Iceland, Ireland
  • Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark
  • Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania
  • France, Monaco, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Poland
  • Ex Russia: Byelorussia, Ukraine
Europe political

Europe political

 

Central Europe

  • Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Romania
  • The Balkans: Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania

Southern Europe

  • Spain, Portugal, Italy, San Marino, Macedonia, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Israel

Others

  • Russia (the biggest country in the world)
  • Former Soviet republics of: Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldova
  • Turkey

vote

Eurovision has been known on occasion to bring out the weird and the wonderful (Google and listen to the contributions of Verka Seduchka (Ukraine) and Jedward (Ireland).  But this is all a big part of its fun.

EUROVISION 2015

Don’t miss the 2015 edition which will be broadcast from beautiful Vienna! (since Austria won last year)

Date of final: May 23 (semi-finals on preceding Tuesday and Thursday)

All 40 acts and the voting are streamed live from http://www.eurovision.tv allowing the world to participate with a scintillating range of commentaries.

Vive Eurovision!

FINAL NOTE: The title of the post reflects a UK entry by Bardo.

Next Up: The New Romantics of the New Wave

 

 

 

 

New Directions, A Softer Rebellion

The growth of electronic music

Electronic music employs electronic music technology in its various forms to produce and deliver electronic songs.  At the end of the 70s these technologies were becoming more portable and more affordable.

Electronic sounds have actually been with us since the 1950s: In the 60s the Beatles and the Moody Blues made use of the Mellotron; in the 1970s the Mini-Moog became a fashionable tool and at the end of the 70s came MIDI (Musical Instruments Digital Interface).

The Moog Synthesizer responsible for a lot of early electronic music

The Moog Synthesizer responsible for a lot of early electronic music

The growth in electronic music at the end of the decade was a part of the New Wave in popular music, which rolled through the last years of the 70s to the mid 1980s.

One of the first pioneers in so far as electronic music experimentation is concerned was Kraftwerk (Power Station).  They formed as early as 1970 and became known for repetitive rhythms, the use of electronic sound effects and sometimes intricate melodies.  Their songs often had a minimalistic structure and feel and when they sang/spoke/chanted they would put their voices through vocoders and change them using speech manipulation software.  Kraftwerk should be recognized as being one of the first groups to make electronic music popular.

Their 70’s output included:

  • 1975     AUTOBAHN
  • 1976     RADIOACTIVITY
  • 1977     TRANS EUROP EXPRESS
  • 1978     MAN MACHINE
The sterile red and black look that Kraftwek adopted for the MAN MACHINE

The sterile red and black look that Kraftwek adopted for the MAN MACHINE

Autobahn was my first experience of Kraftwerk at my secondary school back in Spondon (age: 17) and its unusual structure and soundscape immediately attracted my attention.  It attempted to portray driving on the German highway system, the tedium of being behind the wheel for mile after mile until with a whoosh another vehicle passes and we are roughly jerked out of our slumber.   The droning mechanical sounds went on for what seemed an eternity but in reality was about 9 minutes, the voices that described the journey were cold and emotionless, intoning in German.  Totally different from anything around at the time.

Towards the end of the 70s came Gary Numan who delivered two outstanding electronic compositions in 1979, Are friends electric (taken from REPLICAS) and Cars from THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE.  His voice was as alien as his music purported to be.  It sounded, cold, sterile, antiseptically clean.  But then that was his intention with “friends” with its anodyne lyrics and alien environment.

So I open the door

It’s the “friend” I’d left in the hallway

Please sit down

A candle-lit shadow on a wall near the bed

You know I hate to ask but “are friends electric”

Only mine’s broke down

And now I’ve no one to love!

Gary Numan's THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE

Gary Numan’s THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE

Ouch!  A very different kind of encounter, one could say almost unemotional.

When I first heard the song, because “Are friends electric?” is not exactly a phrase that one uses everyday, I thought the title was “Our friends electric,” which would have made the song a paean to electronic machines (that made much more sense). The heavier rural English accents would have sounded this way.

Cars was delivered with the same monotone voice lacking in the warmth of human emotion.

And now I’ve no one to love!  In Cars the theme is again one of isolation from the real world.  Consider:

Here in my car

I feel safest of all

I can lock all the doors

It’s the only way to live.  In cars!

ULTRAVOX were also electronic pioneers; their earliest output appeals strongly to purists.  But for me the breakthrough record was VIENNA, when Midge Ure of Live Aid fame started to helm the group whose records had not sold very well at first.  Vienna was again something different with a very atmospheric soundtrack and eerie video.  Loosely based on the film, “The Third Man” it twisted and turned through its various electronic pathways, had slow and rapid sections and gave full vent to Ure’s magnificent voice.  The lyrics also described the east European, almost ambiguous setting of the city with an appealing mix of mystery and suspense.

Vienna's "rathaus" or Town Hall at night.  The city's most beautiful buildings are on the central Ring Strasse.

Vienna’s “rathaus” or Town Hall at night. The city’s most beautiful buildings are on the central Ring Strasse.

The music is weaving

Haunting notes, pizzicato strings

The rhythm is calling

Alone in the night as the daylight brings a cool, empty silence (Here the pitch goes up and the drums make their appearance)

The warmth of your hand and a cold, gray sky, It fades to the distance

[change of pace and volume and more drums]

Ah the image is gone, Only you and I

It means nothing to me

This means nothing to me

Oh Vienna!

(synthesizers kick in and tempo at first slow becomes faster and faster)

What a great song! It solely inspired me to get on an Air Austria jet and go check out the place for myself.  I was not disappointed.

 

Next Up: One step further and I would have been there!